Portugal is a country with something for everyone. From historic cities such as Porto and Coimbra to the rich cultural centre that is Lisbon, Portugal is crammed full of museums, monuments and stunning architecture. It is one of Europe’s oldest extant nations, an ancient kingdom defended by hilltop castles and dramatic walled towns. First-time visitors are usually struck by the friendliness of the people, the affordable food and wine, and the diversity of a country that is relatively easy to travel round in just a few days.
Its cities – notably Lisbon and Porto – amply showcase Portugal’s former role as a maritime superpower that ruled the waves from Brazil to East Asia, though it’s not all about history: the cities boast some of Europe’s best clubs and most adventurous modern architecture. Freshly baked bread, olives, cheese, red wine or crisp Vinho Verde (young wine), chargrilled fish, cataplana (seafood stew), smoked meats – the Portuguese have perfected the art of cooking simple, delicious meals. Sitting down to the table means experiencing the richness of Portugal’s bountiful coastline and fertile countryside.
Of course, you don’t have to sit; you can take your piping-hot pastel de nata (custard tart) standing up at an 1837 patisserie in Belém, or wander through scenic vineyards sipping the velvety ports of the Douro Valley. You can shop the produce-filled markets, or book a table in one of the country’s top dining rooms. Festivals pack Portugal’s calendar. Drink, dance and feast your way through all-night revelries like Lisbon’s Festa de Santo António or Porto’s Festa de São João. There are kick-up-your-heels country fairs in the hinterlands, and rock and world-music fests all along the coast. Any time of the year is right to hear the mournful music of fado in the Alfama, join the dance party in Bairro Alto or hit the bars in Porto, Coimbra and Lagos.